As our communities continue to struggle, negative events and energy remain, and life may seem a bit hopeless; I’d like to bring you a small piece of peace from the ocean. Symbiotic relationships involve two species that interact in which at least one of those species benefits from the other. This week we’ll explore a specific kind of symbiotic relationship called mutualism. Mutualism is when both species benefit from interacting with each other. Let’s see some cool examples of mutualistic relationships in the ocean!
Keep Your Anemones Close
Photo source: Ocean Pictures
The relationship between clownfish and anemones is a classic mutualistic relationship! These species are found in coral reefs and thrive from each other’s assistance. Over time, the clownfish has developed a resistance to the poison that anemones carry. Anemones use this poison to defend themselves, but it has no effect on the clownfish.
A small fish such as the clownfish relies on anemones for a home to rest and a shelter to hide from predators. The anemone benefits from clownfish in their overall health. As the clownfish swims and becomes active, they provide aeration for the anemone which promotes their vibrance, health, and functionality. This is especially helpful when water flow is not as strong, or if there is a lack of oxygen and nutrient cycling in the area.
Additionally, the anemone benefits from consuming the waste from clownfish, the extra food they leave behind, and the protection provided by the clownfish discouraging butterflyfish from eating the anemone. Clownfish have been known to drive away butterflyfish, which do prey on anemones for a meal.
Pearly Whites: Courtesy of A Shrimp
Photo Source: Frank Gradyan via New York Times
Another wonderful example of mutualism exists between cleaner shrimp and a myriad of fishes. Cleaner shrimp have adapted a safe way to forage for food, get a meal, and benefit another organism without endangering themselves, bravo cleaner shrimp! Oftentimes, these cleaner shrimp will set up their “post” along tropical coral reefs within the coral and rocks. They will wait for an organism to come by, and they will signal that they are ready to get to work!
What do these signals look like? Essentially, the cleaner shrimp will do a “dance” and wave their bright antennae and advertise their colors. Scientists have postulated that this dance, in combination with their “warning” colors helps potential predatory fish differentiate between the cleaner shrimp and desired prey. Besides cleaning inside the mouth of larger fish, there are some eels and sea turtles that rely on the cleaner shrimp to consume parasites off of them.
There are larger fish that allow the cleaner shrimp to clean safely and not make a meal out of them because it benefits their welfare. Parasites and debris build-up can be detrimental to a fish’s quality of life and the opportunity to find a mate. Look good, feel good!
The Real MVPs of the Sea...SHARKS!
Photo Source: Stella Diamant
For all of us shark enthusiasts, here’s a great mutualism example between sharks and remora. Remora are also known as “suckerfish.” The relationship between sharks and remora is similar to other mutualistic relationships in that the remora benefits from protection alongside sharks and food scraps on the sharks’ bodies. The sharks benefit from their buddy by getting free of bacteria and parasites (similar to the fish interacting with the cleaner shrimp).
If you have watched documentaries of sharks’ behavior, you might have seen this mutualism in real-time. There are a lot of different reef sharks, whale sharks, great white sharks, tiger sharks, etc. that have a small, linear, darker fish stuck on the side of them. The remora cling onto the shark and swim with them wherever they go. They can be clingy, but they’re a great ally for sharks!
Home Is Wherever I’m With You
Photo Source: advancedaquarist.com
The pistol shrimp and the goby have a very neighborhood-friendly, mutualistic relationship. A fun fact about the pistol shrimp is that they are incredibly strong and efficient diggers, but they cannot see. Being nearly blind, they definitely need help from a “friend.” That’s where the goby fish step in! Goby fish have impeccable eyesight and quick reactions. The goby fish spend their time watching out for predators and danger. If danger appears, they will quickly warn the pistol shrimp, and accompany them in a burrow. The pistol shrimp shares its shelter and food supply with the goby fish.
Additionally, the pistol shrimp’s digging and burrowing capabilities aid in the courting and mating process of the goby fish. This particular mutualistic relationship between pistol shrimp and goby fish usually lasts for the entirety of their lives. We hear about animals pairing together and mating for life, but it’s great to see that biological, symbiotic relationships can also last for life.
Thank you for reading our blog post! I hope that this gives you a break to read about the ocean, but continues the conversation of helping others and being kind. Stay safe, and stay passionate about shark and marine conservation!
Written By: Bailey Higa